2010 Department of Justice Budget Likely to Increase Incarceration in U.S.
Overspending in law enforcement, prisons and under-spending in prevention, treatment and communities won’t yield long term improvements, will cause increased costs for states
WASHINGTON–The President’s Department of Justice (DOJ) budget will likely lead to growing incarceration rates, according to an analysis by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization. JPI’s analysis of the budgets released by the Administration late last week points to increases in spending for law enforcement and decreases in juvenile justice expenditures – what research says is the opposite of what is needed to have a long term impact on public safety and the number of people incarcerated in the United States.
“Police serve an important role in the United States, but overpolicing can be just as problematic as underpolicing,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “What we have seen is that the more money spent on law enforcement, the more people are arrested for nonviolent drug offenses. This results in millions of dollars in incarceration costs for states, with little impact on public safety or, for that matter, rates of illicit drug use.”
JPI observed that the Administration itself recognizes that increased law enforcement leads to increased incarceration: the DOJ budget includes funding for two new federal prisons and 1,000 new contracted (private) prison beds. Currently, half of the people locked up in federal prisons were convicted of a drug offense. Velázquez indicated that the lack of investment in juvenile justice programs was especially troubling.
“Back in 2002 we spent over $546 million on programs to prevent and address youth delinquency. Unfortunately, this Administration is choosing to keep juvenile justice funding at the levels of the last eight years – their 2010 budget is less than 60 percent of the 2002 budget, not even taking inflation into account. Getting and keeping kids on the right track is a proven way to improve public safety, and it means more kids going on to become responsible adults that contribute to their communities and the economy.”
JPI did laud the Administration for their investment in the Second Chance Act, a program that provides services for people re-entering the community from prison. JPI noted that the majority of people released from prison are re-arrested within three years; by improving their chances of success, states stand to reduce their incarceration rates substantially. However, Velázquez remarked, “We can’t just focus on ‘re-entry,’ we need to invest in ‘no-entry’ policies – those that will keep people out of prison in the first place.”
Recommendations to the Administration and Congress focus on investing in programs and policies that have been shown to have positive and long-lasting effects on individuals and communities. These programs include: community-based substance abuse and mental health treatment; evidence-based prevention programs for youth; employment, job skills, and education resources for underserved communities; diversion programs that keep people from entering the corrections system; and re-entry services for people leaving the criminal justice system.
“We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with little to no evidence that these increasing rates are improving public safety,” said Velázquez. “We can’t arrest and incarcerate our way to public safety. We hope the Administration takes a harder look at where they want to spend their money. While politicians may think that ratcheting up law enforcement spending is politically popular, it may not be the best investment if the goal is to build safer, healthier communities rather than more prisons.”
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